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Emergency physicians researching suicide prevention and detection 


AURORA, Colo. - Emergency room physicians are on the front lines of seeing the impact of patients who try to harm themselves with attempted suicide. Too often these patients don't get the ongoing care they need. The physicians in emergency medicine and psychiatry at the University of Colorado's School of Medicine are working to better develop a standardized approach to caring for the patients by participating in a recently approved study supported by a five-year National Institutes of Mental Health cooperative agreement. Seeing patients at the University of Colorado Hospital, physicians will work to identify ways to improve the detection and prevention of suicide among patients who arrive at hospital's emergency departments (EDs). The University of Colorado, through collaboration between the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Psychiatry and the University Colorado Hospital Emergency Department is one of eight sites across the country involved in this research trial.

“Despite the public health significance of suicidal behavior, there have been relatively few controlled trials which evaluate interventions to reduce suicidal behavior.  The ED setting is well-suited for this type of research.” said Emmy Betz, MD, MPH, department of emergency medicine and principal investigator for the UCH site. 

The Emergency Department Safety Assessment and Follow-up Evaluation Trial known as ED-SAFE was awarded to the University of Massachusetts's Medical School and is expected to enroll nearly 1,420 participants over five years. The objectives of this study are:

  1. Develop and test a standardized approach to screening ED patients for suicide risk;
  2. Refine and test an ED-initiated intervention to reduce suicidal behavior and associated morbidity and mortality among people who self-identify or screen positive for suicidal ideation; and
  3. Conduct a cost analysis to compare costs and benefits associated with ED suicide screening and intervention.

Michael H. Allen, MD of the University of Colorado Depression Center is co-investigator at the national level overseeing the work at all eight sites. He is the former president of the American Association for Emergency Psychiatry. 

“In 2006, there were more 500,000 ED visits related to intentional self-harm and the rate of patients with suicidal thoughts among ED patients at UCH is 5 percent,” said Allen.  He notes that it has been difficult to engage potentially suicidal patients in treatment and that the treatment to be tested here is a carefully constructed series of telephone contacts including the patients family. Results from this study should help doctors find ways to get more patients the treatment they need to improve their mental health.

Faculty at the University of Colorado School of Medicine work to advance science and improve care. These faculty members include physicians, educators and scientists at University of Colorado Hospital, The Children's Hospital, Denver Health, National Jewish Health, and the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Degrees offered by the School of Medicine include doctor of medicine, doctor of physical therapy, and masters of physician assistant studies.  The School is located on the University of Colorado's Anschutz Medical Campus, one of four campuses in the University of Colorado system. 

Contact: Jackie Brinkman, 303.724.1525,

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